It got us thinking as to just what can and cannot be said in the Dáil chamber as well as the Seanad and committee rooms.
A little-known document, called the ‘Salient Rulings of the Chair’, offers a unique insight into the kind of things a TD can and cannot say in the Dáil and about other deputies.
The document is intended to go hand-in-hand with the Dáil’s Standing Orders (essentially the rules of the house) to give a comprehensive picture of procedure and practice in the Dáil, or in other words what you are and what you aren’t allowed say and do.
The lengthy document has lots of run-of-the-mills things and has been updated over time to reflect the latest rulings of the chair i.e. the Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett or his deputy Leas Ceann Comhairle Michael Kitt.
Seán Fleming getting in trouble for saying the word ‘orgy’ in the Dáil earlier this month.
Interesting snippets include how it is the long standing rule of the House that the government of the day is not officially responsible to the Dáil for advice sought or received from the Attorney General.
There are other rulings which are frequently flouted such as it apparently being inappropriate to bring a mobile phone into the chamber “let alone use it”. In reality, TDs’ mobile phones regularly interfere with the microphones in the chamber and they are often seen browsing TheJournal.ie on their mobile devices and tablets (we reckon, anyway).
‘Gurrier or guttersnipe’
The document also details how a member of the Dáil must not allege that another member is guilty of a criminal or unlawful act or “reflect on his character or personal honour” by stating that the member is guilty of murder, blackmail, corruption, perjury, seditious libel, being deceitful or, curiously, “interfering in the distribution of land while a Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture”.
TDs are also banned from alleging that a colleague is ‘a smuggler’, ‘a rogue’, or ‘a scoundrel’.
The document also contains a comprehensive list of “insulting and abusive expressions” that have been ruled disorderly when applied to a member, a member’s statement, or their actions or conduct.
- brat or acting the brat
- buffoon or buffoonery
- corner boy, corner boy tactics
- fascist or fascist Minister (although the chair does tolerate the expression “fascist” used in a general way)
- hypocrite, bloody hypocrites, hypocrisy etc.
- scurrilous, scurrilous speaker
The document also states that a reference to ‘handbagging’, particularly when speaking about “a lady member of the House” has been deemed to be unparliamentary.
All of this is not to say that deputies are completely protected, another point in the document states that “members must not be thin-skinned in relation to political remarks”.
In addition, the document states that Dáil proceedings may not referred to as a “circus”, “a farce” or “a slander machine”.
Though this does not preclude the general public from stating this to be the case.